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Weekly Alibi Speed Reader

By Jeffrey Lee, Gaylon M. Parson, Valerie Yarberry, Jennifer Scharn

SEPTEMBER 8, 1998: 

Steal This Dream: Abbie Hoffman and the Countercultural Revolution Against America
by Larry Sloman (Doubleday, cloth, $27.50)

Hoffman was a high-profile counterculture hero, a hippie who never "outgrew" his rebellious phase. Complicated and unpleasant, "the oldest juvenile delinquent in the country," he was also clinically manic-depressive, a condition that led to his suicide in 1989. The genius of self-promotion, for whom every public moment was a photo op, deliberately left no suicide note. While consistent for decades in his political beliefs, Hoffman showed a different face to everyone who knew him: wife Anita, son America, Jerry Rubin, Tom Hayden, Bill Kunstler, Ed Sanders. Sloman deals with the contradictions in the best possible way, by creating a patchwork portrait out of their reminiscences. Like Barry Gifford's Jack's Book, Sloman's oral history ends with the jury still out. I think that's its goal. But with its jumble of voices, Steal This Dream is certainly the most complete picture available of the man who, when indicted as one of the Chicago Seven, said, "Conspiracy? We can't even agree on lunch." (JL)

The Fool's Progress: an Honest Novel
by Edward Abbey (Henry Holt, paper, $14)

The subtitle of Abbey's "fat masterpiece" might provoke your disbelief at first, but stick around. This sentimental journey is a great ride, with one bourbon-bitten, anarchic, uncensored intellect at the wheel. Henry H. Lightcap, "elderly academic bum and liberated libertine," is liberated from his third marriage and his Frigidaire in the opening chapter. Bullets prove necessary in one case. Left to wallow in a trough of redneck despondency, Henry turns the Mahler up to 11, empties a bottle of his favorite refreshment and writes a letter to his brother. The next morning, Henry and his dying dog depart for brother Will and the family farm. As the vehicle leaves Tucson, Lightcap's life spins out from his memory. The farther west Lightcap's story progresses, the closer Lightcap and his truck are to the source: Appalachia. The flashbacks travel from summertime nostalgia through wild party excess to first-rate Western nature writing. This one has it all. Honest. (GMP)

Willie Masters' Lonesome Wife
by William H. Gass (Dalkey Archive, paper, $9.95)

Carry this book with you, and you'll get some curious looks. Perhaps it's the naked female on the cover and the subsequent, unavoidable implication about the text within. Disregard your instincts, though, which might tell you to be embarrassed, and just read the book. It's not what you think.

William Gass speaks from a perspective so universal it might make you nervous. In a roundabout way, he conquers the lonely maze of the mind, wowing readers with his beautiful, complex stream-of-consciousness technique. Despite its classification as a novel, the plot and purpose are difficult to derive. We can surmise very little except that the protagonist has a fantastic imagination and employs it to describe the observations and emotions of everyday life. Gass implements several twists to keep his readers at full attention: screenplay-like dialogues, clever font tricks and some physical poetry snippets reminiscent of e.e. cummings.

Willie Masters' Lonesome Wife is comparable to a calm pond. At first glance, it's just water. But look again; there's the reflection of the clouds, and if you blur your vision a little, there's your own reflection. This book contains such magic, in its own way. (VY)

Salt Water
by Charles Simmons (Chronicle, cloth, $19.95)

Do you remember your first love, when the pain, heartache and longing were fresh and new? This novel brought me back to that feeling. The title refers not only to the novel's East Coast setting but also to the inevitable tears of adolescence. The story centers around a 15-year-old boy named Michael who falls in love with Zina, a girl four years older. What begins as a seemingly perfect romance becomes surprisingly warped in a sad tale of obsession, lies and infidelity. That summer of 1963, Michael loses his innocence, his childlike faith in the way he thought the world worked and his beloved but adulterous father. The last 40 pages are certainly ominous and unexpected. Simmons does not sugarcoat the reality of relations and love in all their complexity. He exposes what we have all learned: that love is painful, and the expectations that follow adoration--familial or otherwise--rarely come to fruition. (JLXS)

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